The estimated number of people employed in North Carolina decreased in August, marking the third straight month of decline.
The unemployment rate decreased as well, though that was due entirely to a decline in the labor force, a measure of all those in the state who are working or looking for work. Because the entire pool of those looking for work statistically shrank, so did the unemployment rate.
In total numbers, North Carolina had an estimated 12,600 fewer workers in August than in July. The unemployment rate decreased to 4.6 percent, according to the August statewide jobs report released Tuesday by the N.C. Department of Commerce.
"Yes, this is a negative trend," said Mike Walden, a North Carolina State University economist. "The jobless rate can drop simply because individuals without employment stop looking for work - and therefore aren't counted as unemployed by the major unemployment rate measure."
Growth in total employment in the United States since 2013:
In a released statement, Gov. Pat McCrory ignored the total employed figure, and commented only on the unemployment rate.
"North Carolina has seen one of the largest decreases in unemployment in the nation since 2013 and we are home to one of the fastest growing economies in the nation," McCrory said through a released statement. "With a declining unemployment rate and more than 300,000 new jobs added, it is clear that our pro-growth economic policies continue to make North Carolina one of the best places to live, work and visit."
When asked about the declining total employment estimates, N.C. Department of Commerce responded on behalf of the governor. "N.C. Commerce recommends not reading too much into short term data such as month to month or even three consecutive months, but rather focus on over the year numbers," according to an emailed statement.
Indeed, when compared to August of last year, North Carolina has nearly 100,000 more employed, an increase of 2.1 percent. In taking a longer look, North Carolina has indeed added 308,000 workers since the beginning of 2013. That increase of 7.2 percent is a pace faster than the nation.
Still, three consecutive months of declining numbers are worth noting. "So many of the things that economists look at are usually over a calendar quarter," said Gene Ferreri, an economist who teaches at William Peace University in Raleigh.
The reported figures are seasonally adjusted, though these adjustments aren’t perfect and August is often considered a transitional month, said Walden. "So a big part of the August decline could be the transition from summer to fall employment patterns."
Census data: North Carolina Income Growth Lags Behind The Nation
The monthly jobs report was released on the same day that contract research organization Almac Group Inc. announced a Durham expansion that will bring 79 new jobs to the area over the next three years. Already, Almac employs 288 workers in the area.
Since May, North Carolina employment has decreased about one-half of one percent. In that same time, overall employment nationally has increased by about one-half of one percent.
"The state economy is still expanding, but it may be we are hitting the 'bottom' of the pool of available workers with skills the labor market wants," said Walden. "The next two months – September and October − will be important in indicating if this is the case."